Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ode to the Asterisk……..We Hardly Knew Ye

What ever happened to our old friend, the asterisk? This used to be a favorite symbol of mine. We’ve all grown up – for the most part – using this wonderful little symbol as a rover, of sorts, to indicate or fill in or signify all manner of items: a break in the flow of thought, a rating system, a bullet-listing mechanism, a vulgarity-filler (s**t!!), a footnote, a grammatical or spelling correction indicator, emphasis, multiplication, and even for sports scoring.

Anymore, though, in our mass-media, litigation-infused society, the asterisk has become a double-agent. Any marketing material, publication, billboard, banner, pamphlet, coupon, advertisement, website, or other form of visible print media has usurped and corrupted our friendly asterisk into a sign of dubious connotation.

Take, for example, a seemingly innocent Burger King drive-through. I went through one today, even though I’m not a big fan of fast food, because I was raging for something salty and a giant bucket of Dr. Pepper, but didn’t want to actually park my vehicle to go get it. I noticed a placard advertising a Creamy Iced Coffee type of drink – that looked pretty good on a hot day – but only after I’d made my purchase. As I was driving by the placard, I noticed a super-tiny asterisk next to the word “Creamy”. Of course, this drink is not on the Burger King website, so I’m guessing it’s being test marketed. At any rate, making an exception marking next to the word “creamy” just seemed so……cheesy. Let’s look at this logistically. From, the definition(s) for the word “creamy” include the following:

cream·y /Pronunciation Ke[kree-mee]
–adjective, cream·i·er, cream·i·est.
1. containing cream.
2. resembling cream in consistency or taste; soft and smooth.
3. cream-colored.
4. Informal.
a) beneficial or profitable: a creamy arrangement for profit sharing.
b) slick, facile, or superficial: His later movies are too creamy.

[Origin: 1425–75; late ME. See cream, 1 —Related forms
cream·i·ly, adverb
cream·i·ness, noun Unabridged (v 1.1),
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

So, by asterisking the term “creamy”, what exactly is Burger King trying to protect or exempt itself from? Liability from a lactose-demanding customer potentially irate at the use of a non-dairy cream-type material, instead of real milk? Protection from the irritable bowel of a lactose-intolerant consumer frustrated at the use of “actual cream” in his or her iced coffee-drink?

How far beyond the reasonable will we continue to endure punctuation abuse, as a society? I’m curious to know. I rarely trust my old friend the asterisk nowadays. It seems that any time I see him, it’s as though he’s providing me with a friendly wink of caution -

“Beware! This commercial is about a beautiful auto lease, but I’ll be followed by 3 rolling paragraphs of 1.5 font fine print scrolling by in 2.3 seconds flat and you, as the idiot consumer, will be expected now to have been fully informed of your rights and obligations as a lessor!”


“Free”! (but only if you use our store card 34 times and send in 17 receipts dated within a 6 month period hand-signed by our store manager that works on the odd-hour day shift, mailed in an 8 x 10 envelope filled with the front page of your local newspaper’s Front Page). You get my drift.

So, farewell, fond asterisk….for I can no longer appreciate you as a friendly “come-hither, I have bonus material for you!” flag. Instead, you have been manipulated into a trickster that I have come to regard with a small amount of dread. You are the crossed-fingers behind the back of a shady salesman, the wink of a shyster, a flower....... hiding a lie. May you rest in peace, next to your brother, Truth in Advertising (which, unfortunately, you’ve been subjugated to nullify - sorry to break the news to you).

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